While many know of the battles our heroic ancestors fought in Virginia and Tennessee, Florida is a state that is not often mentioned when discussing the War of Northern Aggression. Florida sent 15,000 men to fight for the Confederacy, with many of the Florida Brigade serving in Lee’s campaigns, most notably The Battle of Gettysburg. While Federal troops were able to take control of places such as Key West and Jacksonville, they were never able to take Tallahassee, the state capital, as a result of The Battle of Natural Bridge.
On March 6, 1865, The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought in what is current day Woodville, Florida. The Confederate forces were mostly composed of teenage students from the Florida Military and Collegiate Institute, which would later become Florida State University, and elderly volunteers under the leadership of General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller. The Union forces were composed of the 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment from Cedar Key and Key West, the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry, and the 99th U.S. Colored Infantry under the command of Brigadier General John Newton.
After an attack on Cedar Key, Brig. Gen. Newton took on a joint force expedition to engage and destroy the Confederate troops responsible. The troops were reported to have been encamped around St. Marks. The Union Navy had trouble sending ships up the St. Marks River but the Union Army was able to advance and attempted to cross the river at Natural Bridge before dawn. They were met with resistance and were able to push the Confederate forces back but, after three separate charges, were unable to take the breastwork protected bridge. The battle went on for most of the day but the Union forces inevitably retreated back to the protection of the fleet. This Confederate victory made Tallahassee the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not to be occupied by Federal troops.
As a result of the involvement of students from the Florida Military and Collegiate Institute, the ROTC program at Florida State University have a battle streamer commemorating their actions. In 1921, a monument was erected to commemorate the battle and has this inscription:
“This monument erected under authority of an act of the legislature of Florida of 1921 as a just tribute of the people of Florida to commemorate the victory of the battle of Natural Bridge. March 6, 1865. And to keep in cherished memory those brave men and boys who, in the hour of sudden danger, rushed from home desk and field and from the West Florida Seminary and joining a few disciplined troops by their united valor and patriotism saved their capital from the invaders. Tallahassee being the only capital of the South not captured by the enemy during the War between the States.”
The site is now called Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 110 acres of the battlefield. A ceremony honoring the combatants of the Battle of Natural Bridge, followed by a reenactment of the battle featuring Union, Confederate, and civilian reenactors, is held at the park the first weekend of March every year.